Grassroots Buoyant After Defeated Immigration Bill
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And this week we're revisiting immigration, checking in with advocates on both sides for a sense of their plans now that the Senate has rejected the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act.
Yesterday we heard from the leader of a grassroots group that lobbied against the bill. Today we turn to the other side. Many immigration rights groups weren't happy with much of the bill but they supported it because it would have legalized millions of undocumented migrants.
Maria Jimenez is special projects coordinator for the Center for Central American Resources, which is an immigration rights group. She joined us from Houston. Hello.
Ms. MARIA JIMENEZ (Special Projects Coordinator, Center for Central American Resources): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Tell us what sort of tactics your group is thinking of using now to presumably achieve some of the same goals that you are hoping for out of this bill.
Ms. JIMENEZ: One is to continue a very public, massive approach to letting our decision makers know that we're still here. And so we're following the example of the students in California who this week began a fast for immigration reform to insist that the House engage in this debate. Because like them, we know that while the Senate refuses to debate this issue, the bill was not killed. It was simply removed from discussion. So the possibility that we could have reform depends upon our own political action and participation.
Secondly, I think that all of us are now concentrated on insuring that our U.S.-born Latinos and members of immigrant families who are voting age understand that they have a responsibility. And this responsibility includes the ability to understand how the government works. Calling the representatives, visiting the representative, writing letters is extremely important during this debate.
MONTAGNE: Well, a year ago, there were huge rallies in support of immigration reform - really breathtakingly big, some of them. But in the weeks of leading up to the bill's demise it seemed there was very little activism in support of that bill. What happened? And is it possible to generate that sort of massive support again?
Ms. JIMENEZ: Part of our work is to convince people that the massive rallies that we had last year did have an impact on the principal legislative body responsible for immigration, which is the U.S. Congress. However, there was also a reaction from the anti-immigrant forces to use raids and arrests as methods of intimidation of the immigrant community, and also, I think, within the last few months settle a notion among the community that there was very little chance of passage.
MONTAGNE: Well, how do you counter the very real situation that many of those who would be supporting this bill are in fact illegal? Not only can't they vote, but they can't demonstrate with absolutely assured safety.
Ms. JIMENEZ: That is a real issue. And that's why we have to instill in people the understanding that the right to assembly and free expression is a fundamental right protected by the United States Constitution. And this is a right that has been recognized by courts to also be afforded to anyone, irregardless of their status.
The second issue is that it is not true that it is only the undocumented who want this bill. The polls again and again indicate that the majority of the American population supports some way of legalizing the millions that are already here.
MONTAGNE: So, in brief, your group is, how would you say, energized at this point?
Ms. JIMENEZ: Well, I think that we were disillusioned with the process and disappointed at the cloture vote. We understood that it was a minor battle and that we have to regroup. We have not folded at all. And what became very clear to us is that as the Latino community we have to organize and we have to hold them accountable.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
Ms. JIMENEZ: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Maria Jimenez is special projects coordinator for the Center for Central American Resources, an immigration rights group based in Houston.